By Bruce Monnin
VAN WERT -- Going into Friday night's sixth annual Western Buckeye League vs Northwest Ohio All-Star game, the Northwest Ohio squad (consisting of seniors from the Midwest Athletic and Northwest conferences) had won all five previous meetings.
When Delphos St. John's Lance Kehres intercepted a WBL pass with 6:27 remaining in the game and the MAC/NWC all-stars holding a 33-14 lead, it appeared that a sixth victory was all but assured.
But a furious comeback, aided by a special all-star game rule, led to the WBL scoring 22 unanswered points in the next four minutes to secure its first-ever victory in the game.
The game started as it seems to most years, with the WBL squad driving and looking for an early score. On the 11th play of the drive, Lima Shawnee's Matt Hershey completed a 17-yard pass to St. Mary's Justin Nagel to give the WBL a first-and-goal at the five-yard line. But an illegal participation penalty pushed them back and the next four plays netted just one yard to thwart the scoring opportunity.
The MAC/NWC team responded with their own 11-play drive, and on fourth-and-goal, Crestview's Matt Perkins completed the first of his three touchdown passes (four passing TDs overall) to Delphos St. John's Bart Bergfeld to claim the early 7-0 lead. The Perkins to Bergfeld combo struck again in the second quarter for a 17-yard score to increase the lead to 15-0. The MAC/MWC scored again in the quarter on a 53-yard drive, in which the key play was a 29-yard completion from Perkins to Parkway's Brandon Bowen. With less than two minutes remaining in the half, the WBL forced a critical turnover by sacking Perkins and recovering the resulting fumble near midfield. Aided by two penalties, the WBL scored a much-needed touchdown with just 10 seconds left in the half to cut the MAC/NWC lead to 21-7.
Using the special all-star game rule giving them the ball since they were down by more than nine points, the WBL started the second half with the ball but quickly threw an interception. The WBL defense (which always seemed to have at least two St. Marys Roughriders and one Celina Bulldog on the field) held the MAC/NWC squad without a first down. The WBL squad appeared to go three-and-out themselves, but a bad snap forced punter Graham Wagner of Defiance to scramble and complete a 15-yard pass for a first down. From there they marched down the field and scored to close the gap to 21-13.
It took the MAC/NWC team one play to respond. Perkins hit Bowen (sporting the newly unveiled Parkway old style golden helmet) for an 81-yard touchdown pass.
"We did that because the one defender was playing pretty tight and we wanted to get a quick pass by him," said Bowen.
After an interception by Kehres (his first of two on the night), Perkins hit Bergfeld for an 80-yard touchdown pass and the MAC/NWC had a seemingly insurmountable 33-14 lead.
The fourth quarter looked as it might get out of control, as an altercation resulted in the ejection of two players from Kenton and gave the MAC/NWC team the ball deep in WBL territory. But in possibly the most crucial play of the night, a fumble was recovered by St. Marys' Corey Vossler to keep the WBL alive.
After an exchange of interceptions, the WBL scored on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 5:45 remaining in the game. Vossler then converted on a fake extra-point play to make the WBL deficit only 33-20.
The WBL was able to receive the kickoff after their score, and Defiance's Rob Orta returned it to the MAC/NWC 32-yard line. On the next play, another 32-yard touchdown pass made the WBL deficit only 33-28. The defense held the MAC/NWC to three plays and a punt, and the WBL finished the scoring with a 64-yard middle of the field screen pass from Hershey to Bath's Josh Kistler. Another two-point conversion made the score 36-33.
The MAC/NWC team drove as far as the WBL 28-yard line in their final possession, but a stiffening WBL defense stopped them on downs to secure the win.
The WBL fans were jubilant after the game as their team finally won their first game in the series. The local MAC fans had much less to cheer about on the night, as although Parkway had five players on the squad, for various reasons Coldwater, St. Henry, Marion Local, Minster, New Bremen and Fort Recovery failed to send a single player to the game.